**Authors Note** Please feel free to skip the following post. I wrote this more for myself than for the kind people who drop by our little cyber-bar. I don't do this sort of thing as a rule, and I won't be doing this again, but if you are interested, crack a cold one and read on.**
I've had a little time to catch up on your blogs here as of late. Now that thanksgiving is over, my hours at the bakery have fallen off, and I've had a little time to poke around on the computer. I've been reading a lot about peoples faith. I read a lot of blogs written by atheists, and that is just fine. They are all wonderful, thoughtful, and from what I can tell, very kind people. They are good parents, spouses, and citizens. I think the world would be much more enriched if we had a few more like them. And while I don't subscribe to this point of view, I can kind of understand how they arrived at it, and I am gladdened that they believe in something. Nihilism isn't the way to go.
I've been giving this a lot of thought here as of late, what with Christmas coming and all. I've a good friend that just changed to a new faith and he is exploring all the nuances that his new religion offers. He seems happy, and that is what is important, after all, what more could you wish for a friend? His change in faith stems from the fact that his old one didn't answer his questions and often contradicted itself. He dug deeper and started asking more probing questions, only to find that this solved nothing. It only conjured up harder questions.
In talking to people about their faith, I've found that most of them have had it shoved down their collective throats by zealots and fanatics. I don't know about you but I don't want my religion served to me the same way that people have tried to strong arm me into joining Amway. No Thanks! I can understand completely why this would be enough to steer people away. It would me!
I am probably walking a minefield here, but trust me, I tread lightly. It also occurred to me that a blog dedicated to beer and jokes is not the proper forum for this sort of discussion, but as this is my sole outlet to the world at large, I beg your pardon and will venture on. As forewarning, at no point will I try to convince you I'm right. That is for someone else to do, and I want no truck with it. You have your own mind, and after following your writing for a year or so, I believe that you are smart enough to follow it.
While most people seem to have had religion doled out to them like a sharp stick in the eye, mine came like a postcard from an old friend. My family were members of the local baptist church and we went most every Sunday. Now when I say it was a baptist church most people think of bible-thumping, hellfire and brimstone, and a preacher that approaches his job like it was a shouting contest. It was not like that at all. Yes, it was a baptist church in the fact that we believed that a person should be old enough to decide if they wanted to be baptised and join the faith, as opposed to the catholics who wanted to sprinkle the holy water on the kid's forehead as soon as the cord was cut. There ends the similarity between our church and what most people would associate with southern baptists. Sure, we were connected with other churches in a loose confederation, but each church made it's own rules and didn't insist that everyone abide by the same set.
The guiding principle of our church was that each person came to know God in his own way. The relationship between the Creator and the created was different from person to person, and no amount of zealotry could change that. What worked for one person didn't mean that it would work for another, and certainly not for everyone. In my casual study of other peoples beliefs this seems to be a very unique stance. Most every other faith I've come across wants everyone to subscribe to the exact same set of rules, and if you do it slightly different, you are WRONG and have secured for yourself a one-way ticket to a hot place, and I don't mean Florida. Yes, it was a very tolerant faith.
The other guiding principle was "Love thy neighbor as thyself". Even as a child this seemed pretty straight forward. I won't steal your lunch, because I don't want you to steal mine. I won't call you names and insult your mother, because I don't want you to do that to me. I won't tell you how to run your life, and I expect you to do the same. I will not fuck your wife, because I don't want you putting the moves on mine. But while this sounds like a rule driven solely by self-interest, there is another subtler side of it. I won't do these things to you because I love you, just as my God loves me and He has shown me how to love, and I believe that you have a lot of good in you. I don't believe that you are totally good because I've never met anyone that I thought was totally good. We all have our shortcomings, but with some work, we can overcome those and grow to be better people and start helping each other out.
I know there are people out there who can quote long passages of the bible and can argue the finer points of what it says, but I'm not one of them. Most of what I know about the bible I learned in Sunday school and they just gave us the short simple version, usually told using paper dolls on a board covered in felt, but I feel like I got the gist of it. Regardless of the story, the point was do some good in this life, avoid doing harm, love your neighbor, and pray. I seem to recall a passage that recommends having the faith of a child, and I believe that is what I have, but I don't think that is a bad thing. It just makes it a little simpler to keep the rules straight.
I am not a deeply religious man. I don't attend church. I say a small prayer over every piece of food that passes my lips, not because I think that this will make it "holy" or it will hold any sway with the Big Guy Upstairs, but simply because I find it a good time to check in with Him, and it reminds me to work a little harder at not being some rat-bastard who goes through life making things worse. At different points in my life I have had what some people call a "crisis of faith", but each time I used the brains that God gave me to solve it for myself, but I am not so audacious to suggest that my answer would work for you. You are on your own in that regard.
I am reminded of my faith every morning as I pull on my underwear, and not because I am thankful for some magnificent attribute that he has seen fit to gift me with, far from it. I know that this is a peculiar thing to say but it is true. On the waistband of my undies it has the letters "FTL" printed all the way around. I know that this is simply Fruit of The Loom reminding me who's underwear I've purchased, but I don't think of Fruit of The Loom. I think "Feel The Lord" and as I adjust them and get them into a comfortable position, I feel as if I am girding myself with armor to protect me from the slings and arrows that await me that day. It is a reassuring feeling.
My children have received very little religious training, mostly because they are too young and it would be a little much for them, but from their infantsy I have used one rule to guide them. We call it rule #1. Rule #1 is simple: Do No Harm. This means we don't hit anyone, or say mean things, or take things from them, or tear something up just for the hell of it. All of these break rule #1. Regardless of what life holds in store for them, I think that this is a good place to start and it might help them through some tough choices along the way, at least I hope so.
I have known people of other religions other than Christianity and every one of them struck me as a good person. At least they have some kind of moral code to go by. While the Hindus and the Native Americans have multiple gods in their faiths, I don't have any problem with that, because I think that perhaps they are singling out different facets of the same god and just giving each his own name. Jews, Christians, and Muslims all worship the same God, even though they each call him something different. You and I might have a mutual friend and you call him Robert, while I know him as Bob, it is still the same person. We should just count ourselves lucky that we have a friend and move on, regardless of what we call him. Perhaps I am a simple-minded old fool, and most days I would own up to that fact, but that doesn't change what I believe.
I know there are a lot of people out there who celebrate Christmas and don't particularly hold to any one faith, but in my mind, that is okay. Christmas, to me, is a time to be reminded of one guy who came along and suggested that it was a great idea that we all be nice to each other for a change and do some good while we are here, even if some bozo's are determined to see that peace on earth never happens.